The Pilgrim's Way runs along the flank of the North Downs to wind up in Canterbury. It's the route Chaucer's pilgrims took and several of the places it passes through are name-checked in his poem. Last weekend we drove along a section of it. The road was metalled but only wide enough for a single vehicle. It went up and down and roundabout, following the contours of the hillside. On one side of us were woods, sloping upwards; on the other a view out over the farmland of the Weald of Kent.
Weald is a Saxon word, related to the German Wald, meaning forest. But the Weald hasn't been wooded for a long, long time.
Kent gleams like no other English county. It's made of chalk and everywhere the white shows through.
Although used by medieval pilgrims, the Way goes back to prehistoric times. There are several neolithic monuments alongside it, the most spectacular of them being Kit's Coty- a freestanding doorway of huge stones- which was once part of a barrow.
There's a tradition that Kit was originally Catigern, a British chieftain of the time of the Roman invasion, who is supposedly buried hereabouts. Well, maybe- but Kit's Coty was already a few thousand years old by Catigern's day.
Here's a poem I wrote between ten and fifteen years ago with Kit's Coty in mind.
What a good party the ghosts gave
Up on the hill amongst the stones:
Fiddle music and dancing lights,
And those they lured might have the luck
To be princes among the Sidhe or else
Trudge home at dawn all cock-a-hoop
With basketfuls of their fine gold
Which sunshine turns to crinkled leaves.
As copulation is earth to earth
And tumbles us out into visionary space
So sybils entered the stone doors
To sit in the dark with the tribe's dead,
And the energies of the mothering earth
Threw them out of their personal selves
To run with the pack or fly with the flock
Or meet some Haunter's unbearable gaze.
The mounds are gone now, levelled by rabbits
And Protestant ploughmen. The stones remain:
Freestanding doorways through which we look
At landscapes finer for being framed.
The Sidhe are out in the sun, their treasure
Scattered all over the country. Love
Is a narrow gateway to all of the world,
And the rites of the earth are the rites of the air.